Four consultants hired by Baltimore County's next schools superintendent, Joe Hairston, are putting together a "snapshot" of the school system, a move Hairston said is necessary to set education goals and quiet rumors that he will make drastic changes.
"There was an awful seed planted that I was coming here as a change agent," said Hairston, who was hired in March to replace retiring Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione. "To demonstrate that I am not, I will need the most accurate information about the school system that I can get."
Hairston's transition team, which is interviewing school board members and top administrators, is being paid for with taxpayer money and is composed of experts with experience at several levels of school administration.
The team consists of Robert Peterkin, director of the Urban Superintendents Program at the Graduate School of Education, Harvard University; Maree Sneed, a Washington attorney and consultant with the National School Board Association; Katheryn Gemberling, retired deputy superintendent of Montgomery County schools; and Phil Rhor, former deputy superintendent of the Palm Beach, Fla., school system.
Hairston requested money to hire a transition team during negotiations with the Board of Education before he was hired. The total cost has been limited to $70,000. Each consultant can bill the school system $150 per hour, said Robin Churchill, the school system's chief financial officer.
School board members support Hairston's plan, though few would discuss the team's mission in detail yesterday.
"I think it's important for any new leader to have an understanding of his organization," said board member Carolyn Ross-Holmes.
Several board members refused to provide the names of consultants or the size of the team. Others declined to return phone calls regarding the subject. None of those contacted knew how much the team would cost or when they had approved the expenditure.
Pressed for details about Hairston's transition team, school board President Donald L. Arnold said, "Ask Joe."
Few administrators knew that a transition team had been formed.
"The only people who knew about it were the 12-member school board and Joe Hairston and the individual staff members who have been notified that they will be interviewed," said Hairston. "It's not information you want to broadcast to alarm anyone. We want it to be very natural. This is a go-about-your-business kind of process."
The results of interviews by the transition team, which will focus on the school system staff and departments, and curriculum programs, will be reviewed by the new superintendent next month and presented to the school board during a closed-door meeting at the end of July, Hairston said.
"This will be my opportunity to say, `Listen school board, this is what I see, this is what it looks like. Now what do you want me to do with your school system?' " he said.
School board members said that on the advice of their attorney, they will keep details of the report confidential as a personnel matter because the report could deal with staff positions.
Hairston said the report will be his first performance review and therefore is protected from general publication by state law.
Slivers of information from the report might turn up in the form of curriculum goals and philosophy.
"It's all designed to come together in the end," Hairston said.